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Barwon Water is trialling leak detection technology in Apollo Bay to improve customer experience, reduce wastage and ensure more efficient use of water. It’s part of a broader approach to ensure water security for its communities.

The Barwon Water Smart Networks project saw the installation of digital meters with integrated vibration sensors that simultaneously detect leaks on customer properties as well as in its own network. The initial trial of 300 devices targeted the Marengo area of Apollo Bay with the aim of helping Barwon Water find and fix network leaks that would ordinarily go undetected.

Why Apollo Bay?
The Apollo Bay area was selected for the trial because it has the highest rate of water loss across the network, with 24 per cent of water lost before it reaches customers. An
estimated 23 million litres can be saved annually across the entire Apollo Bay system.

Barwon Water Smart Networks Section Leader Travis Juffermans said that the water for the area is from the Barham River.

“During summer periods, the river flows reduce, after which we can no longer take water.” Mr Juffermans said.

“The population in Apollo Bay increases over the summer period due to increased visitors to the area. This puts more pressure on the water supply.”

Mr Juffermans also explained that the Apollo Bay area made for an interesting trial location because of its coastal, sandy soil, which means leaks are not visible on the surface.

Project outcomes

Narrowing in on leak location
Over the course of the trial, Barwon Water was able to greatly reduce the area that operators need to search when attempting to locate a leak, by providing accurate readings throughout the system.

“Prior to the trial, our operators would need to search through 55km of pipe to try and find a leak ,which often required night works and network shutdowns causing disruptions to our customers. With the vibration technology, we are shrinking that down to an area of 50m or less and avoiding unnecessary shutdowns and working at night.” Mr Juffermans said.

Analysis over time
Throughout the trial, Barwon Water was also able to locate three additional leaks that wouldn’t have been found otherwise. These were monitored to determine how quickly they were growing, and if other leaks were also occurring in the area.

While traditional leak audits represent a picture of leakage at a given point in time, the daily collection and analysis of vibration data provides a view of how network leakage is changing over time.

Operational efficiencies
Mr Juffermans said that the traditional methods of detecting leaks, such as water balance or District Metering Areas (DMA), can identify that leaks exist with a general zone, but further investigation is then required to locate the leak.

“The trial gave us the ability to accurately analyse leakage in a way that you just can’t do with traditional approaches.”

The vibration data collected by the digital meter shows patterns and trends over time that help provide a better understanding of the network’s leakage. Using this insight will enable Barwon Water’s leak detection crews and repair crews to be deployed more effectively. This is valuable in cases where there are small leaks on a main that are not historically financially viable to fix using traditional approaches.

Tackling customer-side leaks
Gathered data enabled Barwon Water to identify properties with possible emerging leaks that were below the normal trigger threshold for continuous flow leak alerts. The data also shows a trend change over time, providing greater detail than only flow-based information. This enables the utility to better understand customer leakage and proactively inform customers if they had a growing leak on their property.

“Continuous flow analysis is a proven method for identifying customer leaks. With the addition of vibration sensor data, it has allowed us to detect even smaller leaks and determine if the customer’s leak is changing” Mr Juffermans said.

The future role of data in leak detection
Mr Juffermans said that he believes the challenge for this technology going forward will be building analytical tools that are able to filter and analyse the data and automate prioritisation to maximise value from the data.

“The case for digital metering is strong, most utilities are currently working through moving into scaled deployments or full deployments.

“As the analytics improve, the benefit of deploying the technology more broadly will be greater.”

Featured image: jadecraven/Shutterstock.com

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